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Chris Amirault

eG Foodblog: Chris Amirault (2010) - Holidays in Rhode Island

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Five years ago, I had a foodblog. It was a terrific experience focusing on Providence food culture and on our family's daily cooking and eating during a pretty typical fall week.

A lot has changed in five years. That little kitchen I used to cook in?

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Well, we moved into my dream kitchen. Though 1950s applicances, lighting, and so on present plenty of problems, and though the suburban commute is driving me nuts, the new kitchen is my Disneyland -- the happiest place, for me, on earth.

A few more changes. Take liquids. Though I didn't know it was a bandwagon exactly, prasantrin is right: my tea selection has changed quite a bit. It's no longer quite so Tazo dominated:

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In addition, my drinks repertoire has expanded beyond this sort of thing:

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Not that there's anything wrong with a bit of Wray & Nephew neat, but several years of developing my cocktail chops, including BarSmarts Wired training and several months of work as a bartender and bar consultant, means that you'll see a broader array of libations. Much of that bartending experience has unfolded at Cook & Brown Public House, an award-winning new restaurant in Providence that we'll surely visit next week sometime.

Meanwhile, these two?

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They grew. A lot. While they are on light KP and tasting duty regularly, it's vacation, so I'll need to pull out all of my skills of persuasion to get the two of them, now a kindergartener and teenager, to play sous chef.

What else? I bought a lot of cooking equipment, spent a lot of time curing and smoking charcuterie, delved into Southeast Asian cooking, and indulged by food jones as much as I possibly can. Much more on that to follow.

Finally, there's these here eG Forums. For years, I've been lucky to collaborate with a great team of volunteers to make eG Forums as vibrant and lively as possible. I've learned so much from Society members, and I hope to give some back over the course of the week. I'll also need some help: I've got some tricky stuff to negotiate, and will need you at the ready! As I said last time:

I should say right off the bat that my main hope this week is to interact with y'all as much as you'll allow. Ask questions about what you see and read here; I'll do the same, so that the foodblog can have a sense of dialogue to it. Also, feel free to bump me in directions you find interesting.

At least for me, Andy Williams was right: this is the most wonderful time of the year. Starting later today, I'm off through January 2, and the vast majority of my waking time is consumed with cooking, shopping to cook, planning to cook. At the very least, I have Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas dinner, a Night Before New Years Eve party, and New Years Day cassoulet to prepare. In addition, I have a few surprises planned, including some time with some chef friends in town and a trip with at least one other Society member exploring our Biggest Little State in the Union.

I'm really thrilled to be able to spend the week with you. So let's get started!

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Looking forward to hearing what you are cooking this week Chris. Let the games begin!

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Has your teenager picked up much interest in food? Is she a food snob, compared with her friends?

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I hope you're ready to lend a hand, Nick, as I'm surely going to need your advice on a few things.

Kent, she's an inconsistent combination of curious, recalcitrant, and fussy. In short, a teenager.

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Before getting too far into things here, let's take care of the teaser photos. I left a few little hints in there that intrepid Society members tracked down.

These are prunes --

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-- that are being rehydrated in tea (the Keemun Yi Ji pictured here):

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They've been in armagnac for the last couple of weeks getting ready for their role in Christmas dinner. More on that in a sec.

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Starting later today, I'm off through January 2, and the vast majority of my waking time is consumed with cooking, shopping to cook, planning to cook.

Now that sounds like my kinda vacation!

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As I mentioned in the Christmas 2010 Menus topic, I'm making a (mostly SW) French dinner for Christmas this year. Along with eG Forums, here are the four primary sources:

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That's The Complete Robuchon, Society member Paula Wolfert's Cooking of SW France, Saveur Cooks Authentic French, and Culinaria's France volume.

As for the menu, purists will recoil at the duo of onions, the beefy onion soup as a starter, and the overall heaviness of the meal. But I know my guests, and, believe me, this is the sort of meal they'll love.

If I can pull it off. :unsure:

Here's what it looks like right now:

Gougéres (Culinaria & Saveur, plus I'll need help from you)

Champagne cocktails avec Duval LeRoy Champagne Brut, Cointreau, Suze, & Grand Marnier

Kilpatrick the Brave cocktails (more on them in a bit)

* * * * *

Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinée (Robuchon & Culinaria)

Oignons Farcis a la Farce "Noire" (Michel Bras's Stuffed Onions from Wolfert)

Salade Campagnarde (Salad of Duck Ham with Chestnuts & Walnuts from Wolfert)

Daube de Boeuf (Wolfert, Saveur, and Society members in the Daube eG Cook-Off)

Castelmaure Col des Vents Corbières 2008

* * * * *

Glace aux Pruneaux a l'Armagnac (Wolfert)

Marie Duffau Napoleon Bas Armagnac

That's the plan, anyway. I've gotten a good bit of prep done, as you'll soon see. Here's my first (of many!) dilemmas.

I've been asked to make fresh noodles to go with the daube. I always use Moby's failsafe fresh pasta recipe. Any thoughts on shapes? The current tagliatelle vs pappardelle topic has me thinking about width and thickness, in particular -- though I don't think I want anything as long as those two.

Your thoughts?

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If any of your guests fancy a cocktail after dinner, you can press that armagnac into service in a Brandy Special, a plain ol' brandy cocktail gussied up with a couple dashes of curacao. Here's what Erik had to say in the Savoy topic:

...if you can master this simple formula, (or find a bartender who does,) you may not find much cause to sample other cocktails.

That is not hyperbole.

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Hi Chris,

I have just read your menu and I am exhausted already. Not to mention that I have to go to Google to figure out what some of it actually is. My French cooking skills are, well, nil, so I am looking forward to learning from you this week.

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If any of your guests fancy a cocktail after dinner, you can press that armagnac into service in a Brandy Special, a plain ol' brandy cocktail gussied up with a couple dashes of curacao. Here's what Erik had to say in the Savoy topic:

...if you can master this simple formula, (or find a bartender who does,) you may not find much cause to sample other cocktails.

That is not hyperbole.

Agreed, Dave. I have been truly enjoying the Saratoga as well, in the pineapple syrup version. Seems like the prune-y armagnac may offer a few interesting twists....

Hi Chris,

I have just read your menu and I am exhausted already. Not to mention that I have to go to Google to figure out what some of it actually is. My French cooking skills are, well, nil, so I am looking forward to learning from you this week.

Mais oui! Forgive my rudeness! Here you go:

Gougéres

cheese puffs

Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinée

onion soup

Oignons Farcis a la Farce "Noire"

stuffed onions

Champagne Duval LeRoy avec Suze, Chartreuse, ou Cointreau

Duval LeRoy Champagne Brut with French liqueurs

Salade Campagnarde

salad of duck ham with chestnuts & walnuts

Daube de Boeuf a la Gasconne avec Las Pous

daube of beef in the style of Gascony with fried cornmeal porridge

Glace aux Pruneaux a l'Armagnac

prune & armagnac ice cream

Marie Duffau Napoleon Bas Armagnac

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One of the things I thought I could do in the foodblog is show how I use the various tools and equipment I find most useful. Dave's mention of the Saratoga cocktail reminded me about a pineapple syrup tweak, and that reminded me of this gadget.

Whenever I have the smoker going, I try to throw a few additional things in there to see what happens. Sometimes it produces garbage, but sometimes it's great. The pineapple on the counter was ripe, and I had to smoke some other stuff (as you'll see soon), so I decided to cut it up, thinking that it might be nice to have some smoked pineapple syrup around for the Night Before New Years Eve party.

This is where I used to hesitate, as dealing with a pineapple was a messy task: carving, spiral cutting the eyes, and coring usually left me with less pineapple than I thought I should have plus a lot of lost juice. Enter the Vacuvin pineapple corer/slicer, the sort of strange gadget that I usually avoid. But after grabbing one at a yard sale for a buck, I've become a convert.

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First you slice off the top and bottom as evenly as possible. The only trick is centering the cylinder around the pineapple core and making sure you're perpendicular to the fruit's flat base. Press and turn over a plate and...

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You're left with three items: the core, from which you can scrape a bit of juice; the skin/exterior, from which you can squeeze even more juice; and the slices themselves.

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Those slices went into the smoker last night with some mushrooms and duck ham. Up next: the full duck prep.

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Oo, I just got the Culinaria France book and haven't had a chance to crack it yet.

I'm definitely looking forward to your holiday adventures here, Chris. Is the Daube de Boeuf a la Gasconne from the Wolfert book? What's special about the Gascon style?

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Those Culinaria books are terrific reads, but I've never cooked from one of them. Thankfully, the gougéres recipe contains weight measurements, not merely volume, and I'll probably use that as a base. Unless, of course, someone around here wants to offer a better gougéres recipe....

As for the daube, I'll have to check back at home to see what Paula Wolfert has to say about the Gascony traits. My guess is that the liberal amounts of duck fat and pork rind have something to do with it. :wink:

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The old one? I loved it too. The new one is meh....

OH, I misread. I'm sorry, yes, I love your OLD kitchen floor lol.

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The last two nights, I've gotten a lot of prep out of the way, and I'm trying to document everything as best I can.

First up, the chuck breakdown for the daube. I got these two fabulous slabs of chuck from Whole Foods this weekend:

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Wielding my trusty Chicago Cutlery boning knife, a warhorse I've had for years and years:

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Here's the meat that resulted:

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I also got a pile of meaty bones, which I roasted and used as the base for a stock you'll see later.

Finally, I sliced a piece off my right middle finger (I'm a lefty), my annual holiday prep gash. Glad to get it out of the way early, and glad to find that these clear, water-proof Band-Aids are, truly, waterproof.

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Has anyone used them for gougeres? Wendy seems skeptical, to say the least, and I can't find any contradictory references there.

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Chris, looking forward to your week. Trust you to have bagged the prized Xmas foodblog, I feel assured, we all know we're in safe hands this holiday season with you. Let the feasting begin!

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I'll try to note meals as I go, though they're not going to be very interesting for a bit.

Breakfast was Raisin Bran and my new addiction, Intelligensia's El Diablo Dark Roast coffee, which I get at The Edge coffee shop in Wayland Square in Providence. It's a rare treat that I indulge when I'm up early enough to stop there before work, a big mouthful of roasty dark chocolate and spice.

Lunch, to be scarfed during a meeting, is delivery from Kabob & Curry, a favorite Indian place on Thayer Street here on Providence's east side: samosas, prawn varuval, papadum, pickles, chicken tikka masala, naan, and a lamb tikka salad.

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I'm definitely looking forward to your holiday adventures here, Chris. Is the Daube de Boeuf a la Gasconne from the Wolfert book? What's special about the Gascon style?

This just in from Paula Wolfert:

Gascon daube: two reasons aside from geography. There is duck fat instead of olive oil and beef rather than lamb.

She'll try to stop by later this week for more discussion!

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